Effects of Perinatal Exposure to Phthalates and a High-Fat Diet on Maternal Behavior and Pup Development and Social Play

Endocrinology. 2018 Feb 1;159(2):1088-1105. doi: 10.1210/en.2017-03047.


Humans are ubiquitously exposed to many phthalates, a class of endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonly used in many consumer goods, and diet, especially fatty food, is presumed to be a major source of exposure. Here, we use a rat model of human prenatal exposure to investigate the potential interactive effects of an environmentally relevant mixture of phthalates and a maternal high-fat diet (HFD). From gestation through postnatal day (P)10, dams consumed the mixture of phthalates (0, 200, or 1000 μg/kg/d) and were fed a control diet or HFD. In males, perinatal exposure to the mixture of phthalates decreased prepubertal body weight and, in a dose-specific manner, periadolescent social play behavior. A dose-specific effect from phthalates with HFD was also seen in increased time alone in females during social play. HFD resulted in dams consuming more calories, having greater gestational weight gain, and licking and nursing their pups more, such that an early postnatal HFD generally increased pup body weight. There also was a tendency for increased oxidative stress markers at P10 within the medial prefrontal cortex of males exposed to the relatively high dose of phthalates and HFD. Effects on gene expression were inconsistent at P10 and P90 in both the medial prefrontal cortex and hypothalamus. Overall, this study demonstrates that phthalates and a maternal HFD only rarely interacted, except in oxidative stress markers in males. Additionally, perinatal exposure to an environmentally relevant mixture of phthalates can have a modest, but lasting, impact on social behaviors in both males and females.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Diet, High-Fat* / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Growth / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / drug effects*
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Phthalic Acids / toxicity*
  • Play and Playthings* / psychology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / physiopathology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / psychology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Sexual Maturation / drug effects
  • Social Behavior*


  • Phthalic Acids
  • phthalic acid